Visualize Work

Humans process visual information much better than any other form of communication. Visual Management that is creating and maintaining visual displays showing key quality and productivity metrics and the current status of work (including defects) is essential for Lean Management. These visual displays are shared with both engineers and leaders, and aligning these metrics with operational goals is key to transparency and cooperative effort within a team and cumulative communication and transparency within an organization. Simply a way to display information about expectations, performance, standards, and warnings.

Why do Visualisation of Work?

Visualizing problems is an easy and simple way to make everyone see and understand the problems and thereby be able to act accordingly to solve them. We think very differently with our hands than with our heads. Thinking with words pulls us toward abstractions. Thinking with objects or in pictures pulls us towards concrete understanding.

Since the status of a system can be understood at a glance by everyone involved, it is simpler and more communicative to display a picture. Thus every stakeholder

    1. Understand what is going on.

    2. Share their understanding. Forge a collective understanding of the issues and faster problem solving

    3. Facilitates identifications of deviations

    4. Learn from doing and being flexible when plans do not work out. So collectively overcome obstacles, and learn how to do the work better.

When important information is constantly accessible and visible to people, both the speed and accuracy of their work can improve with reduced wastage from having to search for information. It is also more likely that the information is accurate because people are continuously being reminded of it.

Visual planning encourages shorter and less complicated meetings. By increasing the involvement of the team members the effect is that everyone could easily be a part of the planning hence employee engagement. When a team member posts a note on the visual planning board, there is an inherent commitment with the team to solve that task.

Visual management is the main factor in achieving Employee Engagement and has the power to create ownership of goals and enthusiasm for progress that would otherwise be missing. It embeds the culture of Continuous Improvement in every corner of the company.

How to do Visualisation of Work?

There are a plethora of tools to help you in the visualization of work at the individual level or team level the simplest would be

    1. The To-Do list

Just write down a list of activities on a simple notebook, or even a whiteboard, hanging over the wall in front of you.

    1. Calendar

Time management means knowing exactly how time has been allocated across your activities and dedicating that time to the tasks that really matter. It’s an essential step for all those who work against tight deadlines. The daily time tracked in a calendar-style dashboard and activities as scheduled, location, participants, and time consumed.

    1. The Prioritization Matrix

No plan is completed without clear priorities assigned to each activity. The Eisenhower matrix is an effective way to sort out important and urgent tasks.

    1. Timelines

When every activity has a start and end date we can use timelines to display the deliverables.

One way to visualize a project plan is to create a timeline or Gantt chart of your project schedule. Project timelines are visual outlines of your project plan. With timeline management, you can organize project details in a bar chart to show when each task or deliverable in your project needs to be completed, how long it’ll take, and in what order. The timelines are good for viewing dependencies and any event like marketing campaign etc. is a suitable candidate for using timelines.

    1. Visual Workflow Board (Kanban)

The Kanban(billboard) workflow visualization method is used to focus on the process, limit unnecessary tasks and continually improve the system. All the tasks to be performed are written on “cards” that are moved forward according to their status.

For each major application under development, these boards provide instant information about which tasks each developer is working on, as well as which tasks have yet to be completed. The board provides the team leader a clear view of who is doing what, as well as individual and overall workloads. Each day, managers determine the number of tasks the team has completed (the “burndown rate”). This allows teams to track actual progress against a plan while also monitoring resource allocation. Most importantly, the boards provide teams with an opportunity to spot emerging issues that might otherwise go unseen and uncorrected, while helping engage the business on issues ranging from delivery expectations to scoping issues and clarifications of user requirements. These boards work best for projects with distinct stages that each task goes through before being completed. Kanban boards are great for:

    • Work requests (ticketing system)

    • Issue tracking

    • Sprint planning

    • Sprint retrospectives

    • Scrum meetings

    • Application development management

For all the visualization tools there are many software applications available for easy sharing and collaboration. The Cumulative Flow Diagram lets your team quickly visualize their effort, and match it against the overall progress of the project.

In Jira Software, the Cumulative Flow Diagram shows the statuses of your team's issues over a period of time:

Any bottlenecks will appear as a sudden change of the issue statuses in the diagram.

How to implement visualization in the organization?

The visualization is a cultural change that involves all the stakeholders in the company. The approach should be top-down, where management needs to understand the benefit of visualization of work.

As we need to lead by example in setting a visualization paradigm, involve the Quality Affairs (QA) or Human Resources (HR) department as a support function, and let them spread success stories and best practices within the company. As QA or HR, as early adopters started using Visual Planning, visual goal setting, it will give credibility to visualization in their support function, in turn, supporting the organization in their visualization work. The Project Management Office (PMO) can use Visual performance boards to display the status of various projects and gradually train managers in using visualization like the “train the trainer” program. Ultimately the developers need to be involved in developing the visual plan on the board, putting their commitment as the plan is evolved.

The leaders also have to practice supporting leadership and coach the group members to understand that failing is part of the learning process and that it is accepted by everyone.

How does it help us?

The visualization of work provides transparency and accountability. It empowers the employee at the grassroots level, they see and understand the situation and with discussion come to a consensus. The work is not forced upon them but they pull the work from the available work.

There is no overburden on few employees, the distribution of work is more equitable. Everyone knows the strengths and weaknesses of the team members and is more forthcoming in solving an issue. The work is more collaborative with positive team dynamics. There are lesser burnouts and increased throughput. Though context switching is not promoted normal awareness within the team helps others to take ownership in emergency situations. As the team member pulls the work on his own freewill the commitment to complete is from the team member.

Common pitfalls

The bad visualizations of data can lead to wrong conclusions that can hamper the complete plan. There are common mistakes with work visualization

    1. Using the wrong tool for visualization. The tool used is dependent on the kind of data and intention. If timeline data is used in the visualization performance board or vice versa the required view would be lost.

    2. Adding too much data or color. It happens with new users to add too many colors or data, cluttering the visual, thus information is lost leading to incorrect conclusions.

    3. Not to Scale, Scale is how we quickly look at a visual piece of information and draw conclusions based on what we are looking at. But when a chart or graph is not to scale, it is no longer possible to quickly gauge what it is telling you.

    4. Peer pressure, at times, the total quanta of work with one developer is high in comparison to others. There seems to be a moral obligation on the laggard to come up to the level of the forerunner.

    5. Fear of Failure, due to transparency and direct interaction with clients, there may be some language and cultural barriers leading to communication failure and anxiety in developers.

How to measure the work Visualization benefits?

The work visualization leads to better communication, lesser load, higher satisfaction among employees and client, that may lead to higher sales but it is very difficult to establish in an organization. Unlike a CPU usage graph by glancing at that CPU usage, we can directly deduce the load and decide on additional resources, it is difficult to measure the benefit of visualization of work. We may have better employee satisfaction, a more open culture, lesser burnout but these are all qualitative, not quantitative.

As for other qualitative factors we have to conduct surveys and establish a relationship between the visualization approach and employee satisfaction, customer satisfaction, etc.